The teachers were concerned that our visit would detract from the time they needed to prepare the students for upcoming standardized tests. So, they gave us examples of the skills and topics that were covered on these tests and we created a music curriculum to reinforce these concepts.
Day 1: Introduction, Following Directions and Working Together
Repertoire: First movement of Beethoven String Quartet Op. 18 No. 4
After introducing the instruments, we sat down to play Beethoven and purposely played chaotically. We discussed that for the music to sound good, we have to follow the composer’s directions. We asked the students what a composer might tell us to do and translated their answers into musical terms, which we defined and demonstrated one at a time. We began to perform the Beethoven again, this time following Beethoven’s directions, but not each other. Again, there was chaos. We asked the class, we did everything the composer was telling us to do, why did it still not sound good? This led to a discussion about the concept of working together as a team. We demonstrated what happens when one person goes faster or plays louder, we demonstrated how we communicate with each other musically, and we talked about being generous by listening to each other and letting the person with the melody come out. The academic teachers chimed in when something we said could be related to a concept or topic they had already spoken about. We performed the entire first movement of the Beethoven.
Day 2: Expression in Writing
The academic teachers told us they were working with their students on creative writing, especially encouraging them to use sophisticated vocabulary and expressive devices like similes.
Repertoire: One movement from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (Spring)
We explained that it is possible to express emotions in music without using any words.
Game: The students had to write down a feeling word on a piece of paper. (Happy and sad were banned. The teachers implored the kids to use “juicy adjectives.” We collected the papers, chose one at random and improvised a short excerpt we felt described the word. The kids had to guess what the word was.
Game: Different ways to say the word, “said.” We wrote the following sentence on the board. “Give me the ball,” said Michael. The students had to come up with more descriptive alternatives for “said.” (i.e. cried, exclaimed, thundered…) For each new word, we played the same phrase twice – once the boring “said” way and once to “sound like” the new word.
We discussed what a simile is and came up with some examples. We explained that there are “musical similies” as well. We performed excerpts from “Spring” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and asked the kids to guess what Vivaldi’s “musical similes” were. (running brook, birds, wind). We performed the entire first movement of Spring.
Day 3: Picture Prompt Soundtrack
There is a section on the standardized test called “picture prompt.” The students view a picture and then write a story about it which must follow a very specific form. We wrote a story based on a picture that the students had used for a practice test. We read it to the students and discussed it out loud with the academic teacher’s help (for reading comprehension.) We then guided the students to “compose” the soundtrack for the story (in actuality the music was already written) by asking them questions about the story that tied into some of the musical concepts we had covered on days 1 and 2. (For example: “Mr. Jones is a big tall man with a deep voice – which instrument would be best to play him?” “Cello!” or “This story is about a running race. What kind of tempo should we choose that would best convey running?” “Allegro!”) In this way, we were able to have the kids “compose” almost every phrase of the piece. We then performed it one last time with narration and music combined.
Picture Prompt and Story
“Well, congratulations Jimmy,” panted Andrew as he ran towards the finish line. “You won the race.” It was the annual summer marathon and Jimmy had just finished in the record time of two hours, twenty one minutes and ten seconds. Andrew was second to Jimmy only by a few seconds, but Charlie was further behind and struggling to catch up.
Two droplets of sweat trickled down Jimmy’s cheek like rain on a windowpane.
Mr. Jones, the marathon official, was about to put the gold medal around Jimmy’s neck. Suddenly Charlie ran up and yelled, “He doesn’t deserve the gold medal, Mr. Jones! He cheated!” The crowd gasped and grew quiet. “Is this true, Jimmy?” Mr. Jones asked. “What is Charlie talking about?” Jimmy turned to look at Charlie but his face was red with anger. “I did not cheat, you liar!” Jimmy thundered. “I trained hard for the marathon and I won fair and square!”
All of a sudden, Andrew chimed in, “Well…Charlie and Jimmy were running neck and neck at one point when Charlie fell down. Maybe Jimmy tripped him!” “Yeah,” said Charlie smugly. “Jimmy tripped me.” The crowds in the stands became agitated and started throwing peanuts at Jimmy. “Take away his gold!” “Cheater!” “He doesn’t deserve the medal,” they yelled. Jimmy’s anger turned to sadness and he began to cry. “I didn’t cheat, I swear” he sobbed. And, then… he smiled. “Wait, I can prove it!”
Jimmy marched triumphantly to the spot where Charlie had fallen. Mr. Jones, Andrew, Charlie and a large crowd followed. “There, you see?” he pointed happily. Mr. Jones looked where he was pointing and saw a large rock. Charlie thought about it. He knew he had fallen, but he actually didn’t remember that Jimmy had ever touched him. Just then, Charlie’s mom came running up with a video camera. “You tripped on the rock, Charlie! I have it all on tape. Jimmy didn’t cheat!” Jimmy smiled. The crowd clapped and cheered so loudly that they sounded like a herd of wild animals. “I’m sorry, Jimmy,” said Charlie as he shook Jimmy’s hand. “Congratulations on winning the marathon.”
Click the Play button to hear “Jimmy”, by Sharon Roffman
Day 4: Math word Problems
Repertoire: Shostakovich Quartet No. 1 in C Major, last movement
We introduced the concepts of rhythmic note values by dividing the class into 4 groups, each clapping different rhythms. (To avoid the confusion of explaining that a “quarter” note is actually 1 beat, we called the notes by their initials, having the kids make up names for each note value.) We played examples of rhythmic values from the Shostakovich quartet and asked the students to identify them. We handed out a worksheet of math word problems about rhythm which included a place where the kids could write their own rhythm. We performed some of the rhythms the kids had written. Click here to see an example of one student’s completed word problem sheet. We performed the last movement of the Shostakovich quartet.
Day 5: Wrap up
Repertoire: Dvorak, “American” quartet; last movement
On the last day, we reviewed all the things we had talked about all week using examples from Dvorak’s American Quartet. (Directions from the composer, what feelings the music evoked, rhythmic values, etc…We even worked similes in by showing how Dvorak made the quartet sound like a train.) The kids were able to distinguish and recognize all of these concepts and were listening very actively. We finally had time to answer the many, many questions the kids had for us. We ended with a performance of the last movement of Dvorak’s American quartet.